Binondo: A glimpse to Manila’s premier China Town

Huge red dragon emerged, courtesy of PhilAm Life

Binondo is a place known for its huge low-cost depot of various products, Divisoria. Most of the people visit the area because of the bargain spree it offers.

Wholesale shirt, kitchen wares, toys, candies and sweets and commodities of different kinds, can surely be found in Divisoria. Prices are far cheaper than those in the malls and other shops in the metro which is a great deal for many.

People come and go to experience and re-experience this one-of-a-kind shopping convenience. However, more than this huge and people-filled shopping complex is a great and old town adjacent to the bargain capital of the metro.

China Town: The heart of Binondo

Visiting the country’s China Town was an experience to remember.  Many have been in the busy place of Manila for a long time already, but not most of them have explored the town’s little alleys that have lots of treats and surprises.

Considered as the biggest China town in the country, Binondo remains a sanctuary to the Chinese community. This paved the way in bridging the gap between Chinese and Filipinos.

The harmonious relationship between two nationalities started long before the Spaniards came to the Philippines. Our contacts with the Chinese began as early as the 9thcentury through trade of goods and immigrations. This led to an easy assimilation of the Chinese in the country.

Dragon Dance as part of the Chinese New Year

It was in 1594 when Spanish Governor Luis Perez Dasmarinas founded Binondo. It became a permanent settlement for Chinese immigrants who then converted to Catholicism.  Since then Binondo became a place where Filipinos and Chinese can freely exchange goods, ideas and culture.

Aling Mely, a Filipino-Chinese who lived in Binondo for more than 50 years now narrated that her parents also lived in Philippines since they were children.

When asked about how long Chinese have been here in the Philippines, “It was such a long time already. I can’t remember when. I was born here and even had my children and grandchildren here,” Aling Mely said.

Presently, Binondo is like a little province of China where you can find native Chinese treats, food houses and even temples.

According to the 2011 Philippine census of population, Binondo has ten barangays with a total population of approximately 11,552.

Binondo: Fusion of culture and tradition

“You will even see Chinese temple that has Catholic images, like the Sto. Nino. It’s different here in Binondo, it’s already a mixture of Chinese and Filipino culture and tradition,” said Mr. Laurence Chan, a tour guide from FSCC Postal Heritage and Metropolitan Theatre Tour.

Binondo is where Buddhism is blended with Catholicism. Since the conversion of Chinese to Catholicism began, these two religions harmoniously co-exist.

The presence of the Catholic Church did not hinder the Chinese temples be built.  People are free to decide on what faith to choose. For some, being a Buddhist and a Catholic at the same time is not anymore a problem.

“I remember my mother telling about her experiences as a child. My grandmother will always require them to practice the Chinese tradition like this one, burning of incense and praying to Buddha,” Aling Mely said after burning a stick of pink incense in front of a Chinese temple.

–Binondo is where Buddhism is blended with Catholicism. Since the conversion of Chinese to Catholicism began, these two religions harmoniously co-exist.–

Burning of stick incense is an everyday practice in traditional Chinese religion. Chinese called this the joss sticks which they use for everyday worship and prayers. There are also other kinds of joss sticks that Chinese burn for a specific occasion such as funerals and the Chinese New Year.

Busy Binodo during the Chinese New Year

“Usually scented pink joss sticks are used for this kind of occasion (Chinese New Year),” Aling Mely added.

The grand celebration of the Chinese New Year in Binondo is another thing both Filipinos and Chinese enjoyed. In this occasion, people go to Binondo to experience the native Chinese celebration.

Dragon and lion dances, day-time firecrackers, street dancers and popular Chinese street treats are among those that people look forward to in celebrating the new Lunar year.

“It’s different when you attend this festivity, it’s fun, it’s a different experience. I like the dragon dances most. We are lucky to celebrate two New Years!” a Filipino spectator said when asked about what she likes most in the Chinese celebration.

Mr. Chan also explained that Chinese New Year is localized already. He used the word Filipinized when he mentioned the street dancers who ate and blew fire, people under the dragon costume who are already Filipino and the crowd itself.

“That’s what happens if two cultures are too intact. They borrow traditions and other things from one another,” Mr. Chan added.

Aside from these, the foods and shops that you can find in Binondo are other things that Filipinos really enjoy. Even if it’s not the Chinese New Year celebration, some people really come to Binondo to taste the treats from different restaurants and bakeshops.

Here you will find different kinds of mooncakes (hopia), sticky rice cake (tikoy), cookies and other pastry treats. Eng Bee Tin, Holland, Salazar Bakeshop and Diao Eng Chay are some of the famous bakeshops where you can find different Chinese specialties.

Chinese altar during the Chinese New Year

Restaurants like Café Mezzanine, President’s Tea House, Chuan Kee and Ambos Mundos are few of the best that you can find in Binondo. You will find a lot in different streets of Binondo from Ongpin St. to Carvajal St. until Tomas Pinpin St., food shops are in every corner.

The acceptance of both tradition and custom could have been the reason why these cultures seem to be in-sync. We also owe this to time wherein it really created a fluid relationship between Filipinos and Chinese.

For a lot of people, Divisoria is the face of Binondo because of the benefits that it brings to them – affordable products and variety of choices. However for some, Binondo’s China Town will not be complete without the native Chinese restaurants, food shops, the fusion of culture and tradition and its long and fascinating history.

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15 thoughts on “Binondo: A glimpse to Manila’s premier China Town

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